Turkey is 'making NATO very uncomfortable'

Recep Tayyip Erdogan and obamaJason Reed/ReutersU.S. President Barack Obama and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan hold a joint news conference in the White House Rose Garden in Washington, May 16, 2013.

Turkey’s push to carve out an independent foreign policy and purchase arms from countries outside of NATO is raising concerns among members of the defensive military alliance, Emre Peker reports for the Wall Street Journal.

“Turkey is recasting itself as a nonaligned country in its rhetoric, which is making NATO very uncomfortable,” a Western official in Brussels told the WSJ.

Ankara’s decision to purchase missile-defence technology from China, as opposed to from NATO member states, is the most visible break between Turkey and the rest of the NATO bloc. Turkey chose to purchase from Beijing due to a matter of lower costs and a willingness from China to provide a more technology transfers than Western defence contractors.

There are concerns within NATO that the Chinese missile shield would not be able to be integrated into NATO’s overall defensive shield. Western military planners are also concerned that a military deal with a Chinese company could open NATO’s door to espionage, especially given that the company is on the US proliferation list.

If the missile-defence deal were an isolated incident, NATO concern over Turkey’s actions would likely be significantly muted. However, the arms deal is just the latest move in a string of decisions by Ankara that has left its Western allies uncomfortable.

China FD-2000 air defence missileCCTVChina Central Television (CCTV) aired a footage showing Chinese military’s drills with its newly-developed FD-2000 air defence missile system.

“You’re not in a situation where people in Washington and Brussels are asking, ‘Whose side is Turkey on?’ But one or two more big negative decisions, and you’ll be there,” Marc Pierini, a former European Union ambassador to Turkey, told the WSJ.

Turkey’s relationship with the West, and especially the US, has been primarily strained by divergent views of the Syrian civil war. Until mid-2014, Ankara maintained an open transit policy which allowed the easy smuggling of supplies and fighters into Syria against the Assad regime.

This relaxing of border controls contributed to a sense of lawlessness along Turkey’s border and facilitated the rise of ISIS and al Qaeda’s Jabhat al Nusra franchise.

Turkish Tanks Syrian BorderUmit Bektas/REUTERSTurkish army tanks take up position on the Turkish-Syrian border near the southeastern town of Suruc in Sanliurfa province October 6, 2014

Ankara has also refused to allow the US-led anti-ISIS coalition to launch military strikes from Turkish soil, although there are ongoing discussions to allow US drones to operate out of Incirlik air base close to the border with Syria. Turkey and the US have also begun to cooperate on attempts to train moderate Syrian rebels.

Turkey has also become increasingly connected to terrorist organisations and financing. The Financial Action Task Force, a terror finance regulatory body, almost blacklisted Ankara for being out of compliance with its international obligations for seven years in 2014. This is in addition to Turkey’s growing role as a top sponsor of Hamas.

Turkey hamasREUTERS/President’s Press Office/HandoutTurkey’s then-President Abdullah Gul (C) poses with Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal (2nd L) as they are flanked by other Hamas officials in Istanbul March 17, 2012.

There are unconfirmed reports that $US300 million in annual aid flowed from Turkey to Hamas. Additionally, one of Hamas’ top leaders, Salah Al Arouri, has found shelter in Turkey. Arouri was responsible for the planned murder of three Israeli teens in June 2014.

Turkey is also still stuck in a corruption scandal that includes the exchanging gold for oil with sanctioned Iran. And a gas deal with Russia that helped Russian President Vladimir Putin keep leverage on Europe.

This coalescence of factors has led to a steadily growing sense that NATO and Turkey may find themselves at cross purposes. Additionally, NATO is overwhelmingly unpopular within Turkish society as a whole. A Pew opinion poll from July 2014 found that 53% of Turks held a very unfavorable view of the alliance, with an additional 17% holding a somewhat unfavorable view.

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